Understanding Autism-Related Behaviors

Unravel the mystery behind understanding autism-related behaviors. Equip yourself with knowledge for better management.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
June 27, 2024
8 min read
min read

Understanding Communication Challenges

Communication is a fundamental aspect of human interaction. However, for individuals with autism, communication can often be a challenge. Understanding these challenges is the first step in effectively addressing them and helping individuals with autism better express their needs.

Impact of Communication Difficulties

People on the autism spectrum often face communication challenges, which can lead to frustration and difficulty expressing needs. These difficulties can manifest in various ways, including verbalizing challenges (some individuals are non-verbal), expressive language difficulties, receptive language difficulties, and pragmatic or social language issues. These challenges can make understanding social cues, holding conversations, and interpreting language more complex for individuals on the autism spectrum [1].

As individuals with autism age, they may become increasingly sensitive to misunderstandings and being misunderstood. Providing a supportive environment and coaching for social interactions is essential to help them navigate these challenges effectively. Understanding these communication difficulties is crucial to improving their overall well-being, independence, and social interactions.

Forms of Communication in Autism

Autistic individuals may interpret language literally, have unusual body language, facial expressions, and movements that do not align with their words, and exhibit unusual vocal tones. Additionally, some individuals, especially those with Asperger's Syndrome, may speak like little adults, struggling to communicate with peers or understand social slang [1].

Given these communication challenges, it is crucial for individuals with autism to be taught a meaningful form of communication to improve their quality of life, future independence, and reduce stress levels for both individuals and families. Teaching meaningful forms of communication and providing support can significantly enhance the quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Addressing communication challenges in autism is a vital part of managing challenging behaviors in autism. It's important to remember that each individual's experiences with autism are unique, and strategies should be tailored to their specific needs. For more information on specific behavior management strategies, such as dealing with fecal smearing in autism or hygiene challenges in autism, please visit our other articles.

Exploring Repetitive Behaviors

Central to understanding autism-related behaviors are repetitive behaviors that are often among the first signs of autism to emerge in toddlerhood and are seen in individuals across the autism spectrum. These behaviors can be more pronounced in those with lower cognitive ability.

Definition and Characteristics

Repetitive behaviors in autism are characterized by patterns of behavior that are recurrent and unvarying. They can range from simple motor repetitions, such as hand flapping, twirling, and manipulating objects, to more complex behaviors like rituals and restricted interests.

According to NCBI, motor repetitions are considered "lower-order" repetitive behaviors, while rituals, circumscribed interests, and restricted interests are classified as "higher-level" behaviors. These behaviors can look different, with repetitive motor behaviors potentially causing self-injury and interfering with learning and family life.

Functions of Repetitive Behaviors

While the exact function of repetitive behaviors in autism is not fully understood, various theories have been proposed. Some researchers suggest that repetitive behaviors offer autistic individuals a way to shut out the outside world, while others believe these behaviors serve no function and simply reflect a disorganized nervous system.

However, autistic individuals themselves have described various functions that their repetitive behaviors serve, such as calming anxiety, generating or maintaining awareness of their bodies, focusing concentration, dealing with overwhelming sensations or emotions, and communicating their mental or emotional state to others.

Despite their potential functions, intense or constant repetitive behaviors can sometimes prevent individuals from engaging in important activities, result in harm to themselves or others, distract people, or have social consequences such as making it harder for them to make friends or get a job.

Understanding these behaviors is crucial for helping to manage challenging behaviors in autism, such as fecal smearing, and for addressing hygiene challenges in autism. For more resources on handling these behaviors, visit our page on toilet training for individuals with autism.

Spectrum of Autism Behaviors

The behaviors exhibited by individuals with autism can vary significantly due to the spectrum nature of the condition. Understanding this spectrum is crucial in comprehending the root of behaviors exhibited by children with autism.

Spectrum Overview

Autism is considered to be on a spectrum, with some individuals having only a few or mild symptoms while others have many or severe symptoms. The spectrum nature of autism means that the condition affects individuals differently. Some children may have significant challenges in communication and social interaction, while others may have unique strengths or talents. It's important to remember that each child with autism is unique and will have their own set of behaviors and challenges.

Behavioral Characteristics

Children with autism may exhibit characteristics that lead to problem behaviors at home, in the classroom, or in the community, which can be frustrating for both the child and the adults caring for them. Recognizing these characteristics is essential in addressing and managing challenging behaviors in autism effectively.

For instance, some children with autism may have difficulties following directions, particularly if the instructions are vague or abstract. Providing clear, short, and concrete directions is crucial in promoting positive behavior. For example, using direct commands like "eat your food" rather than vague instructions like "Be good at the table" can be more effective in guiding behavior.

Moreover, children with autism often benefit from having choices to feel a sense of control over their environment. Limiting choices to two to four options and using visual cues or pictures can help children make decisions and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.

Lastly, implementing structured hands-on or visual activities can be highly beneficial for children with autism, as these activities can help keep them focused and encourage calm behavior. Engaging children in activities they excel at can be an effective strategy in managing behaviors.

It's also important to note that some behaviors, such as fecal smearing in autism, may be related to sensory issues or difficulty with toilet training. Understanding these behaviors can lead to more effective strategies for management and intervention, and help improve hygiene challenges in autism.

By understanding the spectrum of autism behaviors, parents and caregivers can better support their children in managing their behaviors and improving their quality of life.

Managing Behavior in Autism

Understanding autism-related behaviors and implementing effective management strategies are key to supporting individuals with autism, including behaviors like fecal smearing. Two commonly used approaches include Positive Behavior Support (PBS) and various behavior management strategies.

Positive Behavior Support (PBS)

Positive Behavior Support (PBS) aims to improve a person's quality of life and reduce behaviors of concern. It focuses on understanding the causes of behaviors and implementing individualized plans that incorporate person-centered strategies. This approach is particularly helpful in managing challenging behaviors in autism, such as fecal smearing, by identifying the underlying reasons for the behavior and developing targeted interventions.

PBS involves several steps:

  1. Identifying the challenging behavior.
  2. Understanding the context and triggers of the behavior.
  3. Developing a person-centered plan to address the behavior.
  4. Implementing the plan consistently.
  5. Monitoring and adjusting the plan as needed.

This approach emphasizes the importance of understanding the individual's needs, preferences, and motivations to develop effective strategies.

Strategies for Behavior Management

Alongside PBS, several behavior management strategies can be beneficial in promoting positive behavior and reducing challenging behaviors.

  1. Clear and Concrete Directions: Providing clear, short, and concrete directions to children with autism is crucial. Using direct commands like "eat your food" rather than vague instructions like "Be good at the table" can guide behavior more effectively.
  2. Choice: Children with autism often benefit from having choices to feel a sense of control over their environment. Limiting choices to two to four options and using visual cues or pictures can help children make decisions and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
  3. Structured Activities: Implementing structured hands-on or visual activities can be beneficial. These activities can help keep them focused and encourage calm behavior. Engaging children in activities they excel at can be an effective strategy in managing behaviors [3].

Remember, each individual with autism is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It's essential to get to know the individual's preferences and needs to devise the most effective strategies. For more guidance on managing specific behaviors like fecal smearing, visit our article on fecal smearing in autism. Additionally, consider seeking professional advice from therapists or educators experienced in working with individuals with autism.

Sensory Processing in Autism

A vital aspect of understanding autism-related behaviors involves exploring the unique sensory processing characteristics often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Sensory Hypersensitivity

Many individuals with autism exhibit forms of sensory hypersensitivity. In fact, over 96% of children with ASD report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains, indicating atypical behavioral responses to sensory information [5]. This can manifest in various ways, such as atypical visual behavior, including avoiding or seeking visual input, and tactile sensitivity, which can lead to complaints of avoiding light touch and specific clothing. Neurophysiological findings indicate hypersensitivity in certain receptor pathways.

Children with ASD may exhibit greater dysfunction in auditory, visual, tactile, and movement processing, as well as in behavioral systems, compared to neurotypical children [6]. This can manifest in a range of behaviors, such as hypersensitivity to pain, avoidance of certain sounds or textures, aversion to smells or objects, or seeking specific visual experiences.

Impact on Behavior

Sensory processing concerns have been a key feature of ASD clinical descriptions since the initial reports by Asperger and Kanner to first-person accounts. These sensory processing abnormalities can impact behavior significantly, sometimes leading to self-injurious and aggressive behavior.

For instance, distress caused by specific sensory stimuli can trigger challenging behaviors in individuals with ASD. Discomfort associated with certain tactile experiences may lead to avoidance behaviors or even self-injurious actions. Similarly, hypersensitivity to certain sounds or visual stimuli can cause an individual to become overwhelmed, resulting in challenging behaviors.

Sensory sensitivities can also contribute to specific hygiene challenges, such as resistance to toilet training or aversion to certain textures or smells associated with hygiene practices. This can result in behaviors such as fecal smearing, which can be particularly challenging for parents and caregivers to manage.

Understanding the link between sensory processing and behavior in autism is a crucial step towards developing effective strategies to support individuals with ASD. By recognizing and accommodating sensory sensitivities, parents and caregivers can help to reduce distress and manage challenging behaviors more effectively.

Early Signs and Development

Understanding autism-related behaviors begins with recognizing early signs and developmental milestones. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often manifests early in a child's life, affecting their communication, social interaction, and behavior.

Early Detection of Symptoms

In many cases, the symptoms of ASD become noticeable in early childhood. According to WebMD, up to half of parents of children with ASD noticed issues by the time their child reached 12 months, and between 80% and 90% noticed problems by 2 years.

While some children on the spectrum start showing signs as young as a few months old, others seem to have normal development for the first few months or years of their lives and then start showing symptoms. This underscores the importance of early detection and intervention to effectively manage ASD and related behaviors.

Your doctor may recommend developmental tests to identify if your child has delays in cognitive, language, and social skills. These tests can help diagnose ASD and inform appropriate interventions, as mentioned by Mayo Clinic. It's important to remember that ASD is a lifelong condition but its symptoms can improve as the child grows older.

Developmental Milestones

Children with ASD often show noticeable delays in reaching developmental milestones, particularly in areas like communication and social interaction. For example, many children with ASD show symptoms of communication problems by 12 months to 18 months of age or earlier, according to the NIDCD.

In some cases, a child may appear to develop normally in the first year, and then go through a period of regression between 18 and 24 months of age when they develop autism symptoms.

Understanding these early signs and developmental milestones is crucial in managing ASD and related behaviors, including challenging behaviors like fecal smearing. Early intervention can help manage these behaviors and guide parents in providing the necessary support for their child, such as toilet training and addressing hygiene challenges.









steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents